COP 21-A Genuine Triumph & Total Fantasy

Last month I attended a Curtin University lecture on the Paris Climate Talks (COP21), presented by practicing lawyers, authors and principles of Eco Carbon PTY Ltd, David Hodgkinson and Rebeca Johnston. It was interesting to hear their take on the outcomes of Paris, which was pessimistic compared to the optimism voiced by some in the lecture theatre. What follows is a dump of my take away messages from the lecture.

David quoted Kevin Anderson (UK Tyndal Centre, University of Manchester) and Bill McKibben several times, and they are repeated in this piece. The talk looked at the triumphs and pitfalls of the Paris negotiations and came to the conclusion the future was not bright. Encapsulated by the comment from Kevin Anderson: COP 21 was a genuine triumph of international diplomacy, but risks total failure.

Rebeca gave a quick dot-point background of negotiations so far:

  • UNFCCC UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Kyoto Commitments by developed nations
  • COP15 Considered a failure, but did get commitments
  • COP17 Durban Legal framework covering developed & developing nations
  • COP19 Warsaw Each state brings nonbinding targets to the table.
  • COP 21 Paris.   Committed legally binding articles on emissions, but not legally binding targets. Only 21 pages.

What gave optimism?

  • The agreement is the first time all states committed to both a maximum temperature rise and maximum atmospheric CO2e levels. Article 2.1 agreed to limiting temperature rise to a peak of 2*c ultimately reducing to 1.5*c. Article 4.1 commits to the atmospheric CO2e peak being reached ASAP, and then falling back, and countries making their own emission targets to achieve this.
  • These commitments are seen as more robust than any previous agreements, and are open to public scrutiny.
  • On 22 April 2016 all parties will sign up to COP21 and their own personal carbon reduction targets. There are currently 195 target pledges.
  • Article 3 commits participants to Articles 2.1 & 4.1.
  • The developed/developing countries differential has been removed.
  • The first global carbon stock-take will be undertaken in 2018.
  • Bill McKibben said COP21: is the most significant initiative ever.

What gave cause for concern?

  • Climate Action Tracker said: National commitments to mitigation will result in 2.7* temperature rise by 2100.
  • The biggest concern relates to the voluntary nature of carbon reduction targets.
  • USA has committed to 26% cut on 2005 emissions by 2025, but this not enough to meet their targets, so US has unspecified initiatives to fulfill their commitment.
  • This raises concerns related to what is termed negative emissions; where (developed) countries continue to emit carbon and offset it by geo engineering.
  • A large group of European climate scientists have written an open letter advising aspirational targets should be zero; the concept of negative emissions is flawed.
  • The current commitments amount to delegates making political commitment while trying to maintain the existing energy intensive lifestyle of their citizens.
  • COP21 targets do not come into force until 2020.
  • IPCC state a normal future climate requires significantly reduced emissions and technological removal of CO2.   This would rely on Bio Energy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS). Kevin Anderson said: this is about as realistic as waiting for carbon sucking visitors arriving from another galaxy.
  • The unquestioned reliance on technology is the significant aspect of Paris, yet BECCS are not included in the text at all. Kevin Anderson went on: The scale of assumptions are breathtaking!
  • Victor & Nordhurst say Paris agreements will create carbon clubs where developed nations form cartels.
  • Bill McKibben says all fossil fuels must stay in ground, and COP21 does not go anyway to achieving this.
  • Kevin Anderson concluded: We are now in Pantomime season and the world has gambled it future in the puff of smoke from a fairy fucking godmother.

Australia’s involvement

This is the first COP where Australia did not play an openly disruptive role. All delegates said the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan is an initiative that should be in all carbon commitments, but is not a carbon reduction scheme in its own right.

All agreed there is a dichotomy between scientific fact and predictions, political commitments and what is practically achievable.

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